Summer Session II, 2005
HISC 106
Theories in Visual Culture

Mondays/Wednesdays 3:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Social Sciences I, Room 145


Lindsay Kelley
History of Consciousness
Office Hours: Wednesdays 1:30-2:30 & by appointment

Course Description:

We are all participants in "visual culture." This course interrogates our own and society's stakes in the visual by reading theories of visuality and exploring several overlapping worlds: science, advertising, film, and popular culture, to name just a few. As we read texts and watch films, we will see how visual objects and theories are deployed in a variety of contexts, from plastic surgery to transsexual subjectivity. A significant part of the course will be spent discussing visual objects from our own lives in an effort to reveal the depth of our involvement with image culture. Our readings will come from theorists of the visual, including W.J.T. Mitchell, Teresa de Lauretis, Jennifer Gonzalez, and Margaret Morse. Because visual cultures is an interdisciplinary enterprise, theories of the visual overlap with critical race studies, queer theory, film and television studies, art history and criticism, and psychoanalysis. Ideally, students will bring familiarity and experience with theoretical texts to the classroom.

Required Course Texts:

Available at Slug Books:
The Visual Culture Reader 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002
A course reader will be also be available from Slug Books.

Course Requirements:

Students will be expected to:

  1. Attend all class sessions. Students with more than one non-excused class absence may not pass the class. (10%)
  2. Participate actively in discussions during the class. (10%)
  3. Students should come to each class section with a visual object (image, tape, drawing, film, solid object, website, or text) and be prepared to present on it to the class. Part of each class section will be dedicated to an analysis of the objects students bring to class. The "Assignment" descriptions that pepper the syllabus are intended to guide these presentations. (10%)
  4. Students should write up one of their presentations, providing a close reading of the visual object itself in the light of a theory read in class. Does the object confirm the theory? Refute it? How does the object shed light on the theory? How does the theory shed light on the object? (25%)
  5. Complete a 7-10 page final paper drawing on at least two authors not assigned during the class and two others from the class. Students will be required to meet with me at least once to discuss their paper topics. Papers are due on the final day of class. (45%)
Depending on numbers, students may also be asked to prepare a brief presentation of their final research project to the class.

Class Schedule:

Monday: What is visual culture?

- W.J.T. Mitchell "Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture" VCR 2.0
- Nicholas Mirzoeff "The Subject of Visual Culture" VCR 2.0

Wednesday: Technology/Apparatus
Screening: David Cronenburg, Existenz
- Jonathan Crary "The Camera Obscura and its Subject" CP
- Walter Benjamin "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" CP

Assignment: Make an inventory of the kinds of visual information, visual media, mass media, and visual art forms that you observe in a day. It will be your personal catalogue of a day's visual culture experience (street information, TV, movies, advertising, photography, art [originals or reproductions], architecture and design, etc). How many visual genres do we encounter in an ordinary day? Bring notes to class for discussion.

Monday: Visualizing Space: The Politics of Space

Screening: Ridley Scott, Blade Runner
- Michel Foucault "Of Other Spaces" VCR 2.0
- Wendy Hui Kyong Chun "Othering Space" VCR 2.0
- Gayatri Spivak "Megacity" CP

Wednesday: Visualizing space: The Body in Space
- Margaret Morse "The Body, the Image, and the Space In-Between" CP
- Adrian Piper "Passing for White, Passing for Black" VCR 2.0
- Jennifer Gonzalez "Appended Subjects" CP

WEEK 3: Meet with me in individual conferences
Monday: Visualizing Capital, Visualising the Spectacle

Screening: The Swan
- Guy Debord "The Society of the Spectacle" VCR 2.0
- Jean Baudrillard "Simulacra and Simulations" VCR 2.0
- Anne Balsamo "On the Cutting Edge: Cosmetic Surgery and the Technological Production of the Gendered Body" VCR 2.0

Assignment: Using ideas from the theory for this week, chose a recent television show, artist or group of art works to consider. How can we extend the ideas of "spectacle," "simulacra," and "hyperreality" to recent visual culture in movies, video, and television? Are reality TV shows an example of these cultural forces? Students presenting should bring an example to watch and discuss as a group.

Wednesday: Visualizing Pop Culture
Semiotics, consumer culture

- Roland Barthes "Rhetoric of the Image" VCR 2.0
- Lisa Nakamura "'Where Do You Want to go Today?' Cybernetic Tourism, the Internet, and Transnationality" VCR 2.0
- Anne McClintock "Soft-Soaping Empire" VCR 2.0

Assignment: Bring to class one advertisement you have found (it may be print, televisual or internet based). What is its denotative message? Its connotative message? How is its medium or context relevant to its meaning? Be prepared to discuss in groups.

Monday: The ‘Gaze’, The Look

Screening: Boys Don't Cry
- Laura Mulvey "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" CP
- Judith Halberstam "The Transgender Gaze in Boys Don't Cry" VCR 2.0
- Judith Butler "Prohibition, Psychoanalysis and the Heterosexual Matrix" VCR 2.0
- Jacques Lacan "The Mirror Stage" CP (read once)

Wednesday: Vision and Psychoanalysis
Screening: Todd Haynes Dottie Gets Spanked
- Sigmund Freud "Fetishism" and "A Child is Being Beaten" CP
- Teresa de Lauretis "Desire in Narrative" CP
- Jacques Lacan "The Mirror Stage" CP (read again)

Monday: Visualizing science

- Lisa Parks "Satellite and Cyber Visualities: Analyzing 'Digital Earth'" VCR 2.0
- Donna Haraway "The Persistence of Vision" VCR 2.0
- C.D.B. Bryan excerpts from The National Geographic Society : 100 years of adventure and discovery CP

Wednesday: Visualizing Colonialism and Race: PAPERS DUE

Screening: Gillo Pontecuervo The Battle of Algiers
- Malek Alloula "From The Colonial Harem" VCR 2.0
- Frantz Fanon "Algeria Unveiled" CP
- Alison Donnell "Visibility, Violence and Voice? Attitudes to Veiling Post-11 September" CP